Dr. Frank Stillwell


Frank Stillwell graduated from the University of Melbourne (BSc 1911, MSc 1913, DSc 1916) and then spent two years with the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson.

His early field studies were at Bendigo, Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie where his athletic abilities brought friendships with engineers who would later become company managers.

In 1923 Frank travelled the world at his own expense and he visited Harvard to learn about mineragraphy. In 1924 Frank was appointed to a fellowship at the University of Melbourne, which was partly funded by the mining industry. In 1926 he was transferred into CSIR (soon to be CSIRO).

In 1924, the AusIMM took responsibility for the industry component of the research funds. It is notable that the industry funding mechanism used then, which involved partially supporting research of particular interest, was so successful that it was used during the flotation studies of Sutherland and Wark and the later and much wider research studies brokered by AMIRA.

Frank’s main research device was a reflecting microscope through which the image is magnified through concave mirrors rather than convex lenses. There were no scanning electron microscopes then. In 1934, Stillwell was joined by Dr Austin Burton Edwards who also graduated from the University of Melbourne (BSc 1930, DSc 1942) and they formed the CSIRO Mineral Investigations Unit (CSIRO MI), which for 35 years gave magnificent support to the Australian mining industry, particularly by linking the mineralogies of the ores to what could be achieved in the mineral processing plants.

The Frank Stillwell and Austin Edwards team flourished during the 1930s-1950s when scientific research was by personal knowledge, personal skills and personal contacts. Self-reliant individual research was essential and Stillwell and Edwards were outstanding in this area.

About half the work of CSIRO MI was directed to beneficiation, often in association with the University of Melbourne ore dressing laboratory. Its success was due to the skills Stillwell and Edwards acquired in the laboratory techniques which were necessary for mineragraphy, for example polishing before the advent of diamond pastes. They applied these skills to understanding the basic ore mineralogy of Australian ore deposits.

Over a period of 40 years, with an average staff of more than three in later years, including a part-time typist, CSIRO MI issued over 920 reports, published numerous papers and edited the first two editions of the Geology of Australian Ore Deposits.

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